The Whys and The Wherefores

by George F Spall

One hot summer afternoon found me lazing on the Sea of Galilee. It was not the kind of day for strenuous paddling so I lay in the bottom of the canoe and fell into a reverie. There had been shooting across the Lake the day before, and three people had been killed and some injured. So I day-dreamed there on the sleepy water. "Why did they do it?" And then of course some other why's thrust themselves into my vision, remaining there on the screen of my mind's eye to glare back at me, plaintive, angry, frustrating, curious, wondering, demanding -- "Why? Why?"

Going back to my friend's house to return the borrowed canoe, I found her wearing a short-sleeved blouse, unusual for her, and the tattooed number showing on her arm now added its silent stare to the other remembered why's still agitating me. Over coffee we began sorting them out, and concluded that perhaps the prime question was: "Why did God choose the Jewish people?" It is probably the one most frequently asked.

But the query, framed like that, is almost impossible to answer. We must first ask for what they were chosen, and the one to ask is Abraham -- he should know if anyone does, for he was the first one chosen, and the promises were made to him. We may read in Genesis chapter 12: "I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

So that's it in a nutshell, a nutshell that encompasses the earth -- rather a big nut, but that's what the Scriptures say -- chosen to be blessed and to be a blessing. "Bless THEM that bless you and curse HIM that curses you" -- implying blessings are to be general and multiplied; curses are selective and individual because deserved.

To be a blessing -- what exactly is a blessing? What are we to expect? As an example we could look at the word in Psalm 1:1: "Blessed is the man ..." , or "How blessed is the man ..." meaning how fortunate, how happy, how well off. So that is why God chose Abraham -- to make him well off, happy, fortunate, and to share this with the rest of the world.

The Hebrew nation was not chosen to be the world's punching bag. It was rather to be the world's spiritual directory, even God's show-piece, a model nation that demonstrated LIFE and how to live it. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob could see that and they accepted the role. Solomon accepted it and demonstrated it, for a time at least. True, the patriarchs made the occasional mistake as they had the occasional lapse of faith, but they knew the secret of being a blessing to others and being a blessing to others and being blessed themselves.

Believing God

The blessing secret came with believing God, for God always responds to faith. Indeed it is so necessary to establishing and maintaining a relationship with God that it is written: "Without faith it is impossible to please him" (Letter to the Hebrews 11:6), and again, speaking of Abraham: "And he believed in the LORD, and he accounted it to him for righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).

It could hardly be said that the world is being fully 'blessed' right now, and certainly it would be hard to find a nation that considers itself blessed because of any blessing Israel may have brought to it -- far be it from any nation to admit such a possibility anyway! Instead the nations snap and snarl, growl and bark -- and worse -- raising fear that there might be an international dogfight with Israel as the bone! Obviously something has gone wrong, for the God of the patriarchs keeps His covenants, yet the promised blessings that were to flow to all nations through Israel are not here -- not yet anyway.

History's Blessings

For our thousands of Jewish and Gentile readers we must consider this question from two points of view. Gentile Christians should admit that blessing has come to the world through Abraham, for one thing because the Messiah is the seed of Abraham, and many of them would catalogue nearly twenty centuries of blessings that have come to the world through the ministry of those who have faithfully followed Him. Yet though they claim Him to be the Messiah of Israel, they would acknowledge that for centuries Jewish people have had much reason to dread the very sight of that symbol, the cross. It has brought hatred and massacre, cruelty and persecution; swords red with blood, stakes draped with burnt skeletons do not speak of blessing. And the charred ruins of synagogues and burnt-out shells of ghetto homes are visual memories that blot out the beauty of cathedrals!

It would be difficult to adjudicate which blessings Christianity has brought to the human race and which have come through Judaism, and it would be true to say that some expressions of the Christian ethic are but giving voice to what was born in the soul of Judaism -- things like the relief of suffering, emancipation of women, education, the dignity of labour. Christianity, though formalized and regimented as much of it is, and though based on Judaism, has spread far and done much good. The motivation that has dotted the world with hospitals, clinics, schools, agricultural colleges and disaster relief and rehabilitation has shown a true spirit of "Love your neighbour as yourself."

But both Judaism and Christianity have missed the mark somewhere, else those blessings promised through Abraham would be more manifest than they are. Jewish people would not have had such harrowing memories of swords used for sermons, blazoned crosses on its shields, had Christianity remained more 'Christian'. Judaism's blessings would be more obvious had Israel remained in the faith of Abraham, Isaac Jacob and Moses.

It has been difficult for Israel to keep trusting the Eternal after suffering two exiles, seeing two Temples utterly destroyed, and Roman eagles desecrating holy places. It has been difficult indeed to maintain faith in circumstances like that, even though they had been forewarned, so as to avoid it, by Moses, who pre-wrote their history in Deuteronomy.

Let Christianity see things as Israel sees them, and let Israel review its history and try to discover how these promised blessings have been delayed.

Person to Person

There used to be a personal relationship between the Patriarchs and the Eternal. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Samuel and David were on speaking terms with Him, as were others. Because their faith was so real, so vital, the relationship remained alive. They were themselves alive to God.

Life is centred through birth. Isaiah spoke of this in chapter 66 when predicting that Israel as a nation will be born anew -- born again. The prophet Ezekiel also wrote about it in more personal terms: "I will give you a new heart ... I will put my Spirit within you ..." (36:26,27), and also David in Psalm 51: " Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me."

It seems that it is this personal relationship which has been lost – lost in institutionalized nationalized religious systems. However, faith is an intensely personal thing. No president, prime minister, king or archbishop can have faith for another. Personal faith brings God Himself into a meaningful relationship with us, a relationship which many have entered into as a matter of everyday experience, Jew and Gentile. They are losing their tensions and guilt complexes; their kinks are being straightened out; their inner conflicts are being resolved; their fears are stilled; their hopes for the future are centred in Almighty God.

He was a Jewish reporter who once wrote of the Messiah: "That was the true Light which gives light to every man who comes into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own did not receive him. But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:9-13).